Erica Bennett investigates:
1. How did you become a playwright? What brought you to theater?
I tend to think of it as coming back to theater after most of my lifetime away. I began my academic career in the theater, after seeing a high school musical production and saying to myself, I can sing better than that. I rehearsed in my bedroom, auditioned and was cast in a musical review. Of course, I’m not a great singer. It was at community college that my competitive nature was converted; theatre became my favorite place of worship. And I found my strength in perseverance. I was fortunate enough to study acting with Don Finn, Jose Quintero, Arthur Mendoza, and Stella Adler. I left the theater, as part of a natural progression, to work in dramatic television as a writers assistant. I like to think that’s where I learned how to edit. I finally came home to the theatre thirteen years ago. I was driven there by illness and the force of wondering, what did I truly want to do with the rest of my life. Time is my driving force and my enemy; I feel like I have a clock on my shoulder, always. When I made a decision to write plays, I studied playwriting with Tom Jacobson (UCLA), William Mittler (Fullerton College) and Cecilia Fannon (SCR).
2. What is your favorite play of yours? Why?
My favorite play is the play I am currently writing, Bender. Bender tells the story of a woman who finds her voice once she finally learns how to love herself. I’ve found myself retelling this story in play after play. I like to think, I’m getting better at it with each one.
3. What is your favorite production of one of your plays? Why?
My favorite production is going to be of Love, Divine, my new short play written in verse for the holiday season that is being produced by New Voices at Stage Door Repertory in Anaheim on December 7, 8, 14 and 21, 2013 at 2:00pm. It’s my favorite, because it was such a fun challenge to write and because it’s my first production in six years.
4. What play by someone else has moved you the most and why?
I am moved by most things theatrical. Two years ago, during my first and only trip to New York, I wept through War Horse at the Lincoln Center in the Vivian Beaumont Theatre. I wept for the majesty of it; the puppetry, the humanity, the storytelling.
5. Who is your favorite playwright? Why?
My favorite playwright as an actor was Tennessee Williams. Now? That is a really tough question. I will have to say, under pressure, I am my favorite playwright. Somebody has to be fully in my corner.
6. How has your writing changed over the years?
I have a tendency to be too internal with my stories, to the detriment of actual understanding. I generally need to develop my plays over time and with actors reading around my dining room table. I need to hear the words and talk about their intention as I go. Because I often write, but don’t fully understand why my characters speak. So, hearing the words helps me understand them. I think I work best this way, because I used to be an actor and feel a deep kinship and trust of them. I used to apologize for my process, but it is my process and now I own it. Consequently, I think I’ve become more effective at articulating myself on the page.
7. What type of plays do you write? (Dramas, Comedies, Plays with Music, Musicals, Experimental, Avant-garde …) What draws you to it?
I write plays with musicality. I’m drawn to musical plays because it’s where I feel closest to my center, to the world around me. When listening to music, I often experience a physical sensation, my heart swells, opens up; I experience joy. When I put words to music, it makes the joy even greater.
8. Do you write any other literary forms? How does this affect/enhance your playwriting?
I have tried to write conversational poetry, but am always pulled toward making them theatrical.
9. Why did you become a blogger for LA FPI?
I became a blogger for LA FPI because LA FPI trusted me enough to blog. I take writing posts quite, perhaps too, seriously. Sometimes I am so scared and intimidated that I don’t know what to say. I mean, I get to thinking, who am I to blog? Who cares what I have to say? I get over that thinking by just writing. The first organization that embraced me as a playwright was the Orange County Playwrights Alliance, led by Eric Eberwein, in 2009. I went to LA FPIs first meeting in 2010 representing myself as an Orange County playwright in a sea of Los Angelenos. I will forever be grateful to LA FPI for accepting me.
10. What is your favorite blog posting?
They are all great because every blogger is writing with their heart on their sleeve. I love everybody for putting it out there.
11. Who do you consider an influence where your writing is concerned? And, why?
I used to think, if I wrote like “so-and-so”, I’d be a playwright. So, I modeled my writing after other playwrights, like Williams and Beckett. Now, not so much. I am my biggest influence. My sense of time, the pressure of time in my life and music are my biggest influences.
12. When did you find your voice as a writer? Are you still searching for it?
I think I found my voice as a playwright when I realized that I am writing the same story over and over again but through different characters, and that it’s my story… Once I learn to love myself, I will find my voice… Once I could see that and articulate it, I think I spoke it aloud to Robin Byrd at a Dramatist Guild meeting in L.A., I began to understand what it is I’m actually working toward. Then, I began to face my fears as a person and on the page and love myself and through my characters. Only then did I feel like my writing began to blossom.
13. Do you have a writing regiment? Can you discuss your process?
My writing regiment is to write every spare minute. I have no process but to write. Write and write, as much and as quickly as I can in the time I have available to me.
14. How do you decide what to write?
Usually it’s an inspiration brought out by an image, text or music.
15. How important is craft to you?
Craft, to me, is what allows inspiration to live on a page.
16. What other areas of theater do you participant in?
I have a tendency to want to direct and produce.
17. How do you feel about the theater community in Los Angeles?
I live the life of a cloistered academic librarian who writes (mostly) between academic semesters. I love the idea of the L.A. theater community and hope to participate more in the future.
18. How do you battle the negative voice? (insecurity, second guessing)
I accept it as truth and then it recedes from lack of attention.
19. Do you have a theme that you come back to a lot in your work?
Yes. Love. Forgiveness. Faith.
20. What are you working on now?
Bender, a two-act full-length play with music written by Karen Fix Curry.
Erica Bennett is a playwright and tenured librarian at Fullerton College, where, as Systems Librarian, her primary responsibility is to coordinate the use of technology in the library.
Her short documentary Mendez v. Westminster: Families for Equality has aired on KOCE-TV (PBS) since October 2010. It is centered about her play El Primer Dia de Clases. Her plays Freed and Jolly and Bean were respectively presented in staged readings at the Laguna Beach New Play Festival and Newport Theatre Arts Center in 2009.
In November 2011, after a two-year development process, her play Water Closet was read by the White Horse Theater Company in New York City at the Dramatists Guild of America. The play was workshopped and read by the Fullerton College Playwrights Festival in January 2012. In May 2012, it was selected by the Orange County Playwrights Alliance “OCPA Studios” for a reading at the Hunger Artists Theatre, which she directed.
Her 10-minute play, A Waffle Doesn’t Cure Insomnia, was selected for publication in the Best American Short Plays 2011-2012. A staged reading was directed by Bennett and presented by OCPA’s Discoveries series in December 2012 at the Empire Theatre, home of Theatre Out. The Fullerton College Playwright’s Festival is producing her 10-minute play, Don’t Ever Love Me, as part of its 10 Cent Story Project in January 2013.
Bennett received her B.A. in Theater Arts from California State University, Fullerton, where she studied acting with Donn Finn and Jose Quintero. Upon graduation she moved to Los Angeles where she studied acting with Stella Adler and Arthur Mendoza. She was featured in Benicio Del Toro’s short film Submission. She worked for nearly ten years in dramatic television production on such shows as The Young Riders, Gabriel’s Fire, Under Suspicion and The Big Easy, as a writer’s and development assistant.
Bennett holds a Master of Library & Information Science from UCLA, and is a member of the Society of California Archivists, the Dramatists Guild of America and the Orange County Playwrights Alliance.